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EDITORIAL: All involved in the lynching of Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana, the Sri Lankan manager of a Sialkot factory, over a blasphemy allegation have been brought to justice.

An anti-terrorism court on Monday handed death sentence to six men, life imprisonment to nine, five years to one, and two years, each, to 72 persons for their involvement in the brutal murder four months ago, while one person was acquitted of the charge.

The police had registered an FIR against 900 workers of the factory for incitement to violence, and against dozens of unidentified men on terror and murder charges.

It took endless hours of painstaking work for the forensic analysts to sift through footage from 10 digital video recorders installed at the factory to identify the culprits and trace them via social media as well as video recordings recovered from the mobile phones of 56 accused.

A special prosecution team presented as many as 43 witnesses before the court, including of course the one brave man, a colleague of the victim, who had tried his best to save him from the enraged crowd at the risk of his own life.

While it is a matter of satisfaction that all involved have gotten their just deserts that may act as a deterrent in the future, it was made possible because the victim being a foreign national his brutal killing brought a bad name to the country. Unlike in countless other cases, the appalling crime was widely condemned by political leaders, both inside and outside government, civil society members and religious scholars.

The state pursued the case as an act against society at large and public prosecutors became actively engaged in legal proceedings, which encouraged the witnesses to come forward and record their testimonies as well as the presiding judge, Natasha Naseem, to deliver her verdict without fear.

If only the system pursued all such cases with an equal sense of responsibility and efficiency that could make unscrupulous elements think twice before levelling false blasphemy accusations, which often times result in a similar vigilante action as seen in Sialkot.

Unfortunately, there are many instances wherein the accused were summarily killed by lynch mobs on mere pointing of a finger, without anyone facing legal consequences.

In fact, in the high profile case of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, when after languishing in jail for several years she was found to be falsely accused by a Supreme Court bench and exonerated of the charge, a relgio-political group, backed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the chief of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), staged a violent countrywide agitation, demanding that she be given death penalty. Quite a few other blasphemy accused remain in jails as lawyers are too afraid to defend them and judges to try them.

These people also vehemently oppose any suggestion for insertion of a clause in the blasphemy laws that makes anyone levelling a false accusation liable to the same punishment as for the accused, even though this is in conformity with the Islamic teachings-based Hadood laws. It is worth noting that in none of the other Muslim countries, with the exception of Afghanistan, blasphemy cases are even heard of. They surely have done something right that we have not.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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